Excerpted from “Innate Knowledge of the Unknown,” November 2, 2019 ~ Oakland, CA
There is a power unlike any other power, force, or energy, when we’re connected deeply with the way our spiritual instinct communicates to us. You usually know it because there’s a kind of intensity about it. It’s an orientation—a spiritual instinct, you might say. When you get connected to how it’s speaking to you, and how you experience it without the veils of what we imagine it should be like, then we come upon a profoundly transformational energy.
There’s a way of listening to our spiritual instinct where we don’t leave ourselves in the listening. It’s to be connected or rooted in an intuitive way, into what’s often a very quiet dimension of being. We do need to stay rooted, but there are different ways of being rooted, of being connected. There’s being connected in a way that’s rigid—“My way or the highway”—being so rooted that one is rigid and can’t actually let anything in. A lot of people, when they’re open and they start to listen deeply, stop being deeply rooted and connected within themselves; they’re listening in an abstract way. And then there’s a way of being connected that’s very fluid and dynamic, where we’re actually rooted but open.
In order to come upon that which is really uniting, we just relinquish our grasp. What we relinquish our grasp on isn’t as important—we could say “on everything.” When we start to relinquish our grasp on any particular point of view, what we start to come into as a living experience of being is a very intimate connection with what in spirituality is often called the Unknown. The Unknown is actually a bit more simple, approachable, and available than people think it is. We make some extraordinary fantasy out of the great Unknown, when at least to begin with, the Unknown is right underneath whatever we’re clinging to.
We cling to things in direct proportion to how much doubt they cover over. The things we hold most tightly, we hold tightly because they’re concealing doubt. If there was no doubt, why would anybody hold them tightly? You don’t hold tightly to the idea of being a human being, let’s say. Most people don’t clutch to that particularly tightly. To them it simply seems to be so obvious that they don’t need to clutch to it.
When we begin to open, we begin to experience this potentially wonderful domain of not knowing. If you want to be united really quickly, just come into the domain of not knowing. Or let’s just call it uncertainty: “Maybe I’m not so certain about the things I think I’m pretty certain about.” Maybe a different kind of energy gets in there, a different kind of curiosity: “I’m not so certain.” The Unknown is actually the absolute necessary ground from which to engage in any deep form of spirituality—without that, it’s just a bunch of ideas.
The beginning foundation—even if it doesn’t sound like a foundation—is actually the willingness not to know, or at least the willingness not to be certain. We start to hold things a little more loosely. When we start to hold things less tightly, the veils through which we tend to perceive things just naturally start to settle. If it doesn’t start with some visceral sense of not knowing, we’re not going to get very far.
In our culture, not knowing is not highly valued, but spiritually, it’s one of the highest values there is. When we open ourselves to the mystery of being, that’s always the doorway—whether it’s the mystery of who you are, the mystery of life, the mystery of God, or the mystery of somebody who’s had a kind of spiritual opening and they’re wondering how they can embody it and live from it.
If you’ve never experienced yourself as a living mystery, a mystery unto you, give it a try. It’s actually very pleasant. It’s not the resolution of the question, of course, but it’s much more liberating than someone’s idea of themselves.
The Unknown is the entryway, the doorway. We let ourselves be oriented to the mystery of being—not because it’s a kind of technique, but because until we’ve had any deeper awakening, we don’t actually know. That’s the truth of the matter: until we know, we don’t know. But the way to know is to allow yourself not to know. That’s the paradox.
Excerpted from “The Immensity of Self,” November 6, 2019 ~ San Jose, CA
What does it mean for the Self—something that’s unlimited, without borders or edges or boundaries—to be embodied in a particular human being? That would mean the human being would have a greater and greater capacity to embody this immensity. It doesn’t mean, however, that the human being is going to be particularly impressive. We always think of enlightened beings in some way as extraordinarily charismatic, glowing human beings. We think if the immensity is being embodied in a human being, it’s going to be so charismatically obvious that you would want to throw yourself at their feet in worship. But that’s not what it really means.
The immensity of being can be deeply embodied in a very humble way, even a very ordinary way. It can be extraordinary and charismatic, but it can also be quite ordinary, something that most people might miss, yet it’s possible that for that being, the immensity of the Self is somehow embodied and expressing itself through them. Because the immensity of being can and does show up as this moment, without it being different or more extraordinary.
There doesn’t seem to be an end to that which is without limit, the Self, to how fully and deeply the unlimited can embody itself and express itself in any human being. There doesn’t seem to be any end to it. How could there be an end to it if being embodied is without limit? This is why at a certain point, we may say, “Okay, this is a fully awakened being.” What does that mean—a human being where the infinite, the unlimited, is completely embodied in a limited human incarnation? How could that be?
There doesn’t seem to be any end to how fully and deeply the Self can be embodied in any human being. At a certain point, the lines we think we’re going to cross and sort of graduate into full enlightenment seem to be what they actually are, which are creations of our egos. Because the ego often thinks in terms of accomplishment: “If I accomplish something—God-realization, enlightenment, full awakening or whatever it is—when I accomplish that, then I will have finally arrived, and then I’ll be okay, and I’ll be fully awake.” The whole thing is egocentric thinking to the extreme.
When we look at it from the standpoint of the Self, if one can do that, then the whole thing is much more “low to the ground.” It’s the endless ways that the unlimited can show up without end: ordinary, extraordinary, everything in between. There’s no graduation. There’s no certificate. Only our egos like to think in terms of end points and graduations because egos want to accomplish things.
This idea of accomplishment is brought into the spiritual realm, and if you’re not careful, you’re still trying to accomplish something. You’re still basically trying to become the person you think you should be. You’re trying to become a good little girl or boy, or the enlightened girl or boy, or whatever. This egoic idea of accomplishment can keep seeping into the spiritual impulse. That’s why the honed, practiced precision of discrimination becomes really handy. And the further you go with all of this, the more important it becomes, because the discriminations become more and more subtle, and the important things become easier to miss.
That’s why it becomes more important to be able to make these subtle discriminations, like discriminating between how the ego relates to the spiritual impulse and how the Self relates to the spiritual impulse. The ego thinks of it as accomplishments and end points and arrivals, but the Self doesn’t look at it that way at all. All of that seems completely remote to the Self because the Self is not going anywhere. It’s not accomplishing anything because it’s not actually becoming more of itself through being totally Self-realized. It doesn’t gain anything. It doesn’t become more of what it already is. But it does become more and more capable of being embodied and expressed through a particular human life—and there’s no end to that. So finish lines and all of those ways of thinking have to be seen through.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t different phases of awakening, different depths of awakening, because there are. The idea that all awakening is the same is ridiculous. Not all awakening is of the same depth. That can vary tremendously. But to touch a little reality is still to touch reality. We don’t want to underestimate the value of any degree of awakening. Any degree of awakening is actually extraordinary. It has an incredible value to it.
Awakening is not extraordinary in the sense that it makes you extraordinary or me extraordinary. That would be just another egocentric orientation. But it’s extraordinary in the sense of the Self, through a particular human being, becoming conscious of itself and embodying itself without end. At some point, that “without end” is no longer resisted. It’s the beautiful thing about it all. “Without end” doesn’t mean you keep endlessly seeking for something more, different, or better. If we’ve had a real awakening, the idea of something more, different, or better doesn’t make any sense. Like I said, if you’ve touched upon reality, you’ve touched upon reality. It’s not about something more, better, or all of those egocentric evaluations. It’s just the endlessness, the unlimitedness, of the Self that you are.
Excerpted from “Illuminating Presence,” August 14, 2019 ~ Woldingham, UK
Presence is a mysterious thing in a certain sense, at least when we reflect upon it. When we experience it, it’s not mysterious, but when we reflect upon it, it’s quite strange. We think of presence as a feeling, and in a sense it is a feeling, a tone—the way an environment feels, for instance. But it’s more than a feeling, especially when we start to awaken certain dimensions of presence within ourselves. Then it’s something that’s more immediate. The feeling is a byproduct, but the presence itself is experienced viscerally.
There are two fundamental dimensions of presence. One of them, you could say, is “presence as such.” You can walk into a church and feel the presence of a place of worship. When there has been deep and heartfelt worship or spiritual work going on, you can walk in the door and feel a kind of presence. You can also feel the presence in a negative sense. When something very violent has happened in an area or in a space, if you’re sensitive, you can pick it up. You can feel it in the atmosphere. It’s disquieting, though you may not know why you feel disturbed.
There’s a presence that we all share, a presence of true nature as such, and there’s also a kind of individual signature of presence. It’s almost like your personal essence or soul, as each person has their own quality of presence. There’s not just one quality—there are many facetsof how presence can be experienced, and each person has a very distinct experience of presence. They may not be aware of it, but if you’re sensitive, you can sense their presence, whether they’re aware of it or not.
Presence is a doorway. It is the visceral experience of various facets of our true nature. Don’t just be aware like a cold spotlight of awareness. Get the sense of it, the feel of it, viscerally in your body. Feel it, even if it’s subtle. If you have an experience of spaciousness, feel it, sense it, because these things arise first as experiences that we are having, or “I” as a “me” am having. That’s often how we get the little hints of these experiences. The foretaste of presence can be like a vast space of awareness, or it can be experienced as a kind of compassion. In the West, the old word for compassion was agape, selfless love, a love that’s just there. It’s not “I love you,” it’s “loving what is” and having a tender feeling for all beings. That’s a kind of foretaste. By giving attention to these experiences, that distance can collapse or just simply merge, where all of a sudden it’s not “me” experiencing awareness, spaciousness, love, stillness, emptiness, solidity—in a positive sense, it’s “I am those qualities.” Those qualities are a dimension of being.
By sensing something, you’re actually drawing yourself close to it. It’s like the difference between “Oh, hi, how are you doing? I can see you over there.” There’s distance. And then you come a little closer. “Oh, hi, how are you doing, let me shake your hand. Now we’re a little closer. I can feel you a little bit.” And then, “Oh, how are you doing?” and you’re giving a big hug. Now your distance is closing. There’s still distance in the hug, but you’re closer, and the closer you get, the more you sense and feel. You might even feel more of the subtle body about them, but there’s still “you” and “them.” There’s the possibility that there’s actually something closer even than a hug, where you might recognize true nature in them. True nature is, in one sense, an insight, but it’s an insight that comes from a visceral, immediate experience. And that’s just how it is for these foretastes of presence—the spacious, unconditioned nature of awareness. It’s right there. Be close with it. Be intimate.
Entertain the possibility that your own direct experience, whatever it is at any given moment—positive, negative, wonderful, difficult—is not a mistake. It is the way. Showing up for it, whether it’s beautiful or challenging, that’s the way. Always running away from it and towards something else is just a delay. So, maybe we can, all of us, even if we feel like we know this very intimately and truly, even if we know it deeply and have experienced it, maybe we can have an even deeper trust in our own immediate experience.
Excerpted from “The Great Expanse of Darkness,” May 23, 2019 ~ Tahoe City, CA
The Sandokai is a fundamental scripture that is chanted in Zen monasteries and temples throughout the world. “San” means “many,” “do” means “sameness” or “oneness,” and “kai” means to shake hands, as in friendship. So, it’s the many things and the One in relationship, which is a way of depicting true nature, or reality. It was written by a Zen master, Sekito Kisen, in the eighth century.
One of the themes that runs through the Sandokai is the theme of light and dark. In the West, we have a relatively surface understanding of light and dark. The light is thought of as good, and the dark is bad or evil, but that’s not the way it is used in the Sandokai. Sekito uses the sense of the dark for the great reality, that great unknown terrain where all things are unified, where they all come together in a single source. And light is being used as the light of our consciousness, which sees differences. When you open your eyes, a tree looks different from a rock, and the sky looks different from the ground. It’s the light of consciousness that discriminates. Mostly the light forgets the dark and gets stuck in its immediate perceptions of difference. It loses the sense of the source, where all things come together.
When you’re paying deep attention, you see that the dark is a metaphor for quiet, the silence, or the great ground of being. You see that all things and all experiences arise out of that dark. A thought simply appears. A feeling simply appears. Where it appears from, you don’t know. It comes seemingly out of nowhere, the great expanse of pure unmanifest potentiality. When you’re just sitting there attending to your own experience, each moment of experience simply arises, and then it passes and disappears into the dark.
The wonderful thing about Sekito is that his vision, his enlightenment, went deep enough to not be attached to either the source—the One—or the many. Of course, whenever we see and experience an aspect, a facet, of the jewel of enlightenment, we’re touching upon the whole diamond. In just the same way, when we have a realization experience, some facet of reality is revealed to us, and each facet feels totally complete. We’re filled with a kind of confidence of that completeness. And yet, there are high-level delusions, even in deep states of realization, or enlightenment. It takes quite a bit of real vision to see that and not get hung up on some of the high-level delusions that are innate in various forms of awakening.
One of those high-level delusions is that, because each facet of reality feels so complete, we may not allow any other facets of reality into our view; we may think they’re simply illusions. When you have an experience of the One—the all-encompassing ground of being—the world of diversity can look, at least for a while, like a flimsy illusion. It’s easy to conclude that the source, the ground, is real but the rest isn’t. It is real, it is the ground, it is the fundamental source, but each distinct expression is also a complete expression of the source, and so each thing is itself the great totality.
In essence, as Sekito would remind us in his sutra, we live in two worlds. One is the sort of pinprick of the known terrain of our life. What our light of consciousness recognizes, sees, and imagines that it knows is this small terrain of life that’s illuminated by what we think we know. The other is the world of the absolute, that immensity of existence that lies outside of what we’re conscious of—that which is generating our experiences and also our thoughts that just come out of the dark.
You can be sitting in meditation and all of a sudden you might feel like you’re encountering the dark, which often evokes a kind of fear. Whether the dark is of the exterior world or it’s the interior world, this is the terrain of our actual existence, of what we know and what we don’t know. It is the immensity of existence that is generating the life that we are conscious of. It can be generating your thoughts, your feelings, your reactions, and your dreams.
Where do your dreams come from at night? They come from this immense terrain of your unconscious, which seemingly knows no bounds. And that’s the culmination of the change to “I am not just what I think I am. The world is not what I think it is. It is not contained within the confines of the little piece of terrain that I’m conscious of, whether it’s what I think about myself, what I feel, what I imagine, my past, my history, or my hoped-for future.” All of a sudden you realize, “I’m not defined simply by this tiny terrain of the known. And the great expanse of the unknown is not some menacing, lurking danger outside of me. It’s actually simultaneously what I am—the totality of being itself.”
All revelation is born in the dark. When you let go of clutching onto the certainty of what you know and open your eyes like a newborn, as if for the very first time, you are surprised to find that the world you had imagined to be real was nothing more than a dream, one fabricated assumption after another. By stepping into the long-ignored silence of our aloneness and directing the light of our consciousness beyond the current frontier of our knowing, we allow the great unknown dimensions of life to find us and remain faithful to the work of our yearning.
Excerpted from The Most Important Thing: Discovering Truth at the Heart of Life Adyashanti's newest book published by Sounds True.
Transformation tends to happen when we stop or something stops us—a tragedy, a difficulty—and we reassess and realize that the way we are going about life must be redefined. Sometimes we will need to redefine our whole identity. This does not just happen to spiritually advanced beings—this is human stuff. These moments occur with some regularity, and if we recognize how important they are, when they come, we can see them as both great challenges and great opportunities. How we respond is important. Do we search for a quick solution, for a quick answer, or for somebody to save us from our insecurity? Or do we find the wherewithal to settle into those moments and meet ourselves? We can lean forward into what is occurring, into the human experience or unresolved quality—whether it is doubt, or fear, or hesitation, or indecision, or whatever our pattern is that causes us to not throw ourselves entirely into that moment.
We never know when these moments are coming. Some are big, and some are much smaller. We should not assume that the small moments are not as important as the big, obvious ones, because attending to the small moments is the way we build a capacity to attend to the big moments of crisis. It is the reason why most spiritual traditions have various ways of getting us to pay attention to our life, even when nothing significant seems to be going on. This comes from an acknowledgment, a realization that vital moments are current in our life and there are decisions being made—consciously or unconsciously—about how we are going to relate to them.
Do you relate to life as an unfolding mystery and an adventure of discovery? An encounter with your immense capacity for wisdom, love, and experiencing life with intimacy and vitality? We have extraordinary abilities as human beings when we begin to recognize the vitality of certain moments and we bring a consciousness to them. These vitality moments happen in our lives with great regularity and are opportunities for awakening and transformation. We must repeatedly embrace the insecurity of these moments and by doing so come to trust them and so ourselves. In these moments, all we need is knowledge of the next step and the willingness to take it. Paradoxically, the knowing of what the next step is arises when we have the capacity to rest in not knowing what the next step is and to recognize this is an intimate part of the process of transformation.
Excerpted from Adyashanti's London Meeting, August 18, 2019
When we turn within, it’s not just as simple as “I turn within, I meditate and get a little calmer, I’m more mindful, and maybe I become less reactive. Maybe my heart is more available.” I don’t mean to devalue that because it’s a worthy thing. It even has a nobility—but not only so that we have more benevolent ideas and behave more compassionately. There is a more significant turning within. This turning within, in its deepest sense, is when we start to peer underneath our most fundamental ideas. And of course, the ideas that are most fundamental to us are our ideas about ourselves.
We each come in with our own coloring of uniqueness. That’s the beauty of existence. That’s the energy of life expressing itself in all of its uniqueness and diversity while at the same time being life. But when something in us comes alive enough, we start to look underneath those ideas and have the associated feelings, because this isn’t all ideas. Some of the feelings have incredible emotional energy behind them. That’s a different matter. We tend to think of what’s real as what we think or feel, and if what we think and feel line up and are the same thing, that’s something that’s hard to see through—for any of us.
My mother used to say that when you go to a retreat it’s like going to a “Buddha boot camp,” because traditional Zen is very disciplined. I didn’t always like spiritual boot camp, but my intuition knew that it was pretty good for me, so I kept at it until I stopped chasing what somebody promised me or what I read in a book or heard in a talk. I started responding to the unique way that I was being called to that which I cared for deeply, even though I didn’t quite know what it was—a yearning to be in touch with the unique but very real and visceral quality of what motivated my spiritual life. That’s the call.
I realized that where I didn’t have it clearly defined in my mind, I had to go to its source, and we come back to this source—the generative source of being. That’s the discovery that’s there for all of us. And since it’s innate, it’s not necessarily like we earn it or deserve it. It’s perfectly virtuous trying to be a decent human being—decent human beings are nice to be around. They’re more benign. But there’s something more intrinsic even than that.
Yearning often feels like we’re yearning for something because we don’t have it—why would we yearn for something that we have? That we yearn for something we’re not conscious of doesn’t mean we don’t have it, and it doesn’t even mean we aren’t it in our deepest being. Things aren’t always as logically simple as we imagine. It’s useful at least to hold as a possibility that our yearning actually comes from a fullness that we may not be fully conscious of, that it may be coming from that which we are seeking. Often we can be yearning for something that somewhere inside us we don’t really believe could blossom in an ordinary human being. And what I’ve seen is when someone starts to let go of that idea, everything becomes possible for that person.
One day I saw myself sliding back down the trajectory of my yearning to where it came from. I traced it, not with my mind, but with my intuition and sense and feeling, and I sort of felt my way back into that place where it came from. The surprise of all surprises was that the yearning came from the fullness of what I was looking for.
There’s an idea in Zen that I didn’t understand for quite a while, which is that the yearning for enlightenment is the first arising of enlightenment in your experience. It’s like saying your yearning for God comes from God inside of you. It’s the first evidence of the divine presence in you. It doesn’t feel like it because it’s a yearning, but our spiritual yearning or orientation is the first evidence that our deepest and truest nature is breaking through into consciousness. Of course we don’t feel that when we first feel our yearning.
“I don’t know” becomes the doorway, whether it’s “I don’t know who I am” or “I don’t know who God is.” You don’t just think it, but you start to feel it, and you don’t push against it. You don’t grasp for more knowledge. You just let yourself not know, and feel it. It’s a relief when you’re not resisting it, like Ahh, I can breathe again! Sometimes it’s the time just to rest in that place, even before our questions. Questions are relevant, but sometimes it’s the time just to pay attention to that space, that consciousness that’s there before we ever have a question, and after we have a question. Then the trajectory of the spiritual instinct itself takes us that next little step.
Excerpted from “The World of Interrelatedness,” April 10, 2019 ~ Garrison, NY
When we think of interrelatedness, we usually think of big or small things that are in relationship with one another. However, the way I’m using the word is not like that. I’m not denying that, but there is something deeper than that. Things are actually nothing but interrelatedness itself.
It’s really hard for a human mind to think that a thing could be nothing but interrelatedness, that interrelatedness itself ends up to be what things actually are. In this sense, things end up to be no-things, and no-things end up to be all things. So when we hear words like no-thing or nothingness, we shouldn’t try to understand that conventionally. In its truest sense, nothingness doesn’t have much to do with nothing. It has to do with interrelationship or interrelatedness.
And so it is with each of us. When you look inside for your true being, you might say, “Okay, exactly, precisely, what is this thing called ‘me’? What actually is it?” The more you look for it, the more you can’t find it. The reason you can’t find it is because it is nothing but interrelatedness. There’s no substance. There’s no thought, idea, or image to grasp. In that sense, it’s empty, but not empty in the sense of being nonexistent. It’s empty in the sense of being unexpected or inconceivable.
When you feel love or fall in love, that’s a very real feeling to you, and yet you can’t see it, you can’t weigh it; it doesn’t have any objective sort of existence. Nonetheless, we treat it as more real than the things we consider to be real—certainly as more important. Most people, if they feel love, their love feels more important to them than the solidity of their toaster. The love has no solidity to it at all. It has no objective tangibility to it, and yet, it’s something that one could orient their whole life around.
The Buddha used to talk about the thusness or suchness of each moment. It means not just each moment, but the thusness or suchness of each apparent thing that we perceive. So when I say being, this is the sense I’m using it in, a similar way that the Buddha used the thusness or suchness of something. When we perceive the thusness or suchness of something, we’re actually perceiving it as being nothing but interrelatedness itself. So this ordinary moment, with nothing particularly unusual about it, is being awareness, and awareness itself is interrelatedness. It’s not like interrelatedness is aware; it’s more like interrelatedness is. It’s not that the interrelatedness is that which is aware—it’s that the interrelatedness is awareness.
This is probably the fundamental barrier that any of us will bump into in spirituality: the barrier between awareness and the objects of awareness. The fundamental duality is that there is this world of things, and then there’s seeing and experiencing this world of things, and somehow those two are different. One of the great misunderstandings about unity is the belief that it reduces the world to a sort of homogenized “goo” of agreement. Actually, in some ways it’s almost the opposite. It frees the uniqueness in you, and it frees you to allow the uniqueness in others. Uniqueness flourishes when we see the unity of things. It doesn’t get flattened out—just the opposite. You just stop arguing with the difference that isn’t like yours.
When you have two viewpoints that are open to interrelating, almost always something will arise if you stick with it long enough, if you’re sincere, if you’re openhearted, if you actually want the truth more than you want to win or be right. Eventually something will bubble up from that engagement that’s truer than either one began with. If you have two people who are openhearted and see the truth and usefulness, even the utility, of really relating, they’ll see that, and both people walk away feeling like “Gosh, I feel good about that, like we both win because we both discovered more than we started with.”
The unity of things isn’t that there are no differences. It isn’t that a tree doesn’t look different than the sky, or behave differently than the sky, or have a different kind of life than the sky. The unity is that a tree—an object—is nothing but interrelatedness. The sky is nothing but interrelatedness, and the awareness of things is itself nothing but interrelatedness. That’s an explanation that is coming from a way of perceiving. That’s what enlightenment really is: seeing that the seeing and what one is aware of are one simultaneous arising. It’s an arising that’s always flowing because interrelatedness isn’t static—it’s ever flowing.
That’s why I’m always saying that this is really about a kind of vision, not in the sense of having visions, but the quality of our vision, the quality of our perception when we can perceive without the dualistic filter. What seems to be this impenetrable sort of barrier between us and things, us and the world, us and each other, is fundamentally between our consciousness and what consciousness is conscious of. That seemingly basic and immovable sense that there is a fundamental difference, a fundamental separation, is what’s really dispelled when our insight gets deep enough.
At the deepest level, the most fundamental level, interrelationship is just that—it’s interrelating. It’s not things interrelating. Things end up to be themselves interrelatedness. When vision becomes clear, that’s what we perceive. The world becomes not a world of things, but of interrelatedness.
We revere the great divine individuals, but we are terrified of being one ourselves, and so we try to copy them. Buddhists try to be Buddha, Christians try to be Christ, Muslims try to be Mohammed, and so it goes, as if by copying a divine individual we will become one. The problem is this: There’s only one Buddha, one Christ, one Mohammed, one Ramana, one Nisargadatta. There was nobody quite like them before and there will be nobody quite like them afterward. So all of the relentless effort to try to be like any divine individual is delusion in its highest.
We all have an instinct toward true individuality. This is the challenge, the instinct that is a part of everyone: “Why can’t I just be myself—freely, easily, smoothly, unselfconsciously, unapologetically?” We go along worshipping the divine individuals in some conscious or unconscious effort to copy them. But the thing that made them what they are is they didn’t have a mind to copy anybody, to be like anybody.
That’s what the symbol of Buddha under the bodhi tree really means. It means someone who was sitting down in his aloneness, not trying to be like someone or something else, but being completely true to his own yearning, his own search. It took him a long time and a lot of spiritual practice to purge hundreds of generations of conditioning out of his system so that he could finally sit under that tree. He could finally embody his aloneness, and we revere him for doing so.
What would it be like to divest yourself of this immensity of human conditioning? Some conditioning is very useful. If it wasn’t for conditioning we wouldn’t be here, and our hearts wouldn’t be beating; they’re conditioned to do so. That’s the conditioning of our biology that over millions of years has evolved so that mostly we run on automatic.
What we’re dealing with is more of a psychological conditioning, that once it gets set in your system you become afraid of your own aloneness, mostly because it’s so unimaginably unknown. Who would you be if somehow all that unnecessary psychological conditioning was to drop out of your system? It’s unimaginable, of course, until it happens. But something like that is exactly what happens to anybody who rediscovers what I’m calling divine individuality. I say “divine individuality” not to make it sound spiritual or to put it into some hierarchy, but because I don’t want to confuse it with what we often think of as individuality, which is pretty constrained.
You can wake up from your form, from your humanity, from your body and mind. You can quite literally wake up and out of all your identifications, your grasping onto form and memory, all of it right down to gender and race. It’s not because they don’t exist—they do exist—but they don’t actually define our essential being. You can have this wonderful waking up out of all of that constraint and feel the great freedom and the inherent feeling of truthfulness about it. When it happens, it’s self-confirming. So that’s one-half of awakening. That’s one kind of freedom—but you can wake up from that and still have many of the overly constraining impulses happening in the body and mind that you just woke up from.
There’s another side of awakening which isn’t just waking up from form, body, and the identifications of the mind—it’s getting that awakening down and through all of that, and that’s like a clearinghouse. That’s the difference between someone who’s had an awakening and ultimately someone who has discovered their divine individuality. It’s not just the waking up from body and mind, but awakening all through it. In order to really do that, there has to be a deep embrace of one’s aloneness. It doesn’t mean what we conventionally think of as aloneness, which is an association with loneliness. You can contemplate it in a quiet way that starts as a sort of intuition of really letting yourself embody your aloneness.
Inquiry is one of the tools we use to dislodge our rigid adherence to unnecessary beliefs, opinions, and ideas. It‘s not the belief, the opinion, or the idea itself that‘s the problem. The problem is finding an identity in the point of view and then being attached to the point of view—becoming a rock in a world that only works in fluids. Life is fluid, it‘s moving, it‘s changing. So if we didn‘t derive identity through our ideas, beliefs, opinions, and our points of view, then we would be fluid. We wouldn’t feel threatened if somebody disagreed with us.
As you see through beliefs, you start to embody your own nonseparate individuality, because we are all one. At the ground of being there’s a sameness, an interconnectedness with all beings and all life. When we sense that in life, we feel at home in the world. If we look at a tree, a cloud, the sky—you see it’s all just various forms of life, but those forms are totally unique. They’re individual without being separate from life. Their individuality, their uniqueness, doesn’t separate them; it doesn’t confer otherness upon them. It’s just what life does—it’s unique in all its expressions. That’s what you feel as the desire to be free. At first you want to be free from yourself to some extent, but there’s also the instinct to be free from within yourself.
As a teacher, I’ve never wanted to try to create copies of myself. I think one of me is plenty. I hope what we’re all doing here is to find our unity, yes, but also to find the way that unity shows up called “your life,” and to let go into that aloneness enough to find it. Because then something in you is finally deeply at home in your own skin, and as a benefit to the world, people like that tend to allow other people to be their own unique expressions of being. They don’t demand that people go around agreeing with them or being like them. It’s a gift that we can give each other.
When you start to look at your idea of yourself, it’s all layers, like peeling all the layers of an onion until there’s no onion left. You might ask, “Will the true entity of me show up, the sterling spiritual version of me?” And at any moment that you peer beyond the layers, it’s disconcerting, because you keep finding, “The more I look for myself, the more I can’t find myself. I keep peeling through the layers looking for the core of me, and there’s no core.” In a sense, there is a core, but it’s not the core as we think of it. Because there’s still something, or more accurately, there’s still “nothing” that recognizes that there’s nothing. That recognition is consciousness.
Consciousness isn’t a thing. It’s not an entity. It’s not a little core piece of you. It’s that which sees and experiences, and it makes every experience possible. It lights up the world. No consciousness, no experience of the world.
Most of ego’s problematic aspects revolve around a condensed experience of being, where it makes us feel like we are simply a separate entity. A lot of spirituality has to do with unraveling that until we see there’s nothing there. But it’s not true to just say, “There’s nothing,” because there is something. It’s not a thing though; it’s that which lights up the whole universe. We’re all utilizing it right now. It’s perfectly functioning in this moment as much as it will ever function.
The ground of being, sometimes called the Absolute, the Godhead, or Dharmakaya [the body of Truth], in and of itself is unconscious of itself. It’s aware, but it has no awareness of itself. It has no self-consciousness. In fact, we might just call it Awareness since there’s really nothing to it in a conventional sense. It’s a domain of pure infinite potentiality.
If you imagine what pure infinite potentiality would look like, it wouldn’t look like anything, because it hasn’t become anything yet. So it would be like an abyss of nothing, but not your ordinary nothing—the potentiality of all existence, like supernovas and galaxies and universes. We’re talking about a lot of potentiality, including the potentiality for human beings to develop self-consciousness.
This Absolute that’s aware, but not self-aware, uses the human being’s consciousness to become self-aware. It’s conscious, but it’s not self-conscious. It needs consciousness to light it up, so it becomes self-aware. And that’s a moment of awakening. If awakening penetrates to that depth, it’s the absolute depth of being, which you could say is the absolute totality of the psyche becoming conscious of itself: I AM.
The deepest domain of your psyche, the most unconscious domain of your psyche, needs consciousness to become self-aware—hence the spiritual impulse. It comes and gets you. Then we attach our agenda to it, like “I hope this makes me feel better, and makes my life more complete.” And that’s fine. It will use that, too. It’s understandable that we add on our human hopes not to suffer so much. But this impulse actually originates beyond the pleasure principle. It’s about something else.
The journey is actually in both directions. We need the divine, and it needs us every bit as much as we need it. It needs the consciousness. That’s basically what spirituality is: You’re making conscious the domains of human experience that are generally unconscious. That’s why you feel the pull, and you don’t know where it is coming from or where is it going. You wonder, “Why do I care about all this?” It means it’s coming from a domain of your being or your psyche that’s unconscious to you. You’re just conscious of the pull or the yearning. That yearning is not just yours; it actually originates from its completion.
So when we go into that deep domain, some dimension of consciousness comes in, and all of a sudden it’s like the lights come on. It’s awake, and when it’s awake, all the yearning ceases. The seeking ceases. The seeker ceases. It all just drops away, because it’s been satisfied. It's not so much the human that's been satisfied; that dimension of consciousness has been satisfied. Of course, then they go together. You recognize it’s all the same thing, because in that dimension, we realize that what we call the unconscious is far vaster than we think it is. The unconscious in this dimension is connected with all of existence. That’s why when you get to a sufficient depth, you experience “I am That.” And “That” means everything from a teacup to every star that you see in the sky. It’s a direct experience of being.
Awakening, at least initially, is often a kind of transcending of the human dimension of being. Body, mind, ego—all of that is transcended. And that’s necessary, because it’s not our egos that wake up. We have to be able to sort of leave them behind. But also, we do have a body and a mind and a human life that’s in time and space, and it’s always in a process of becoming.
To our ego mind it’s hard to imagine “becoming” that has no search for completion in it, no sense of angst or unworthiness. But it’s actually happening all around us. Everything in nature is in the process of becoming, but it’s not in a rush to get there. When a pine tree is a seed, in a certain sense it’s complete. It contains the entire pine tree within the seed. In fact, in a way, it contains all pine trees within the seed. It’s totally complete; nothing is left out. The potentials for roots and trunks and branches and pine needles are all present. A hundred-and-fifty-foot-tall pine tree is innate in a single little seed.
If that seed had its own version of a spiritual awakening, it would feel that completeness, that it didn’t have to become anything other than it was. That’s a huge thing for a human being to experience. Simultaneously, if the conditions are right, the seed starts to sprout and put down roots. It grows a trunk and stretches out its branches and needles to the sun, and basically unfolds its potential. Through the whole life of the tree, it’s endlessly unfolding its potential, until its life is exhausted and it becomes fertilizer for the next seed.
That’s one of the examples I like to use where you can actually have both of these things happening: always unfolding your potential and always unfolding your completion, once we realize what’s always and already whole. And it’s not just a personal thing. It’s not the ego that has that realization; it’s true nature as such, so it’s the true nature of all beings and all things. As it is said that the Buddha proclaimed when he awoke, “I and all beings everywhere have simultaneously realized the great liberation.”
Of course, if he was saying that from the ego perspective or even the rational perspective, it makes no sense. Just because this guy Buddha sitting under the tree had his great enlightenment doesn’t mean that somebody around the corner all of a sudden popped into enlightenment also. But the true nature of me is the true nature of you, and the true nature of you is the true nature of the universe. And when true nature awakens through an individual expression, it’s true nature as such that awakens. So that’s the feeling, and that’s important, because it’s not only important for us to discover our wholeness and completion, but that we also perceive it in others. If it’s a real realization, it will be true nature that’s awake—not “my” true nature, in terms of just me. It has that quality, too, because there’s still an individual there in a certain sense. But the gift has to be seen everywhere.
Seeing the true nature of everyone and everything is an immensely beautiful thing to behold, and wonderfully confounding when you behold the true nature of somebody or something you really don’t like. “Really? Wow!” It doesn’t mean that you suddenly agree with the person you dislike. You can still disagree, but it’s different to disagree and just see your version of their wrongness, or disagree and see that they are also an expression of true nature—potentially a conscious one, potentially an unconscious one.
Even though it’s just mere understanding, it’s kind of nice every once in a while to remind yourself that you can’t be other than you are, and there’s completion from the very beginning. Even when we’re confused and searching and struggling, that’s also true nature. That’s like the seed sprouting and pushing away the grains of soil as it makes its way to the surface sunlight. You can feel that pushing through happening sometimes; that itself is an expression of true nature. So the yearning and the search is an expression of true nature. And it’s not a bad thing to contemplate, especially if you’re having a difficult time. You don’t somehow stop becoming what you really are when you’re struggling.
It all starts from the simplest standpoint, the simplest thing. As I say, often when it comes to your spiritual practice, whatever that is, the simpler and more one-pointed the better. The usefulness of an application is how much can be condensed into its most simple form. It’s like a physicist trying to come up with an equation that takes the greatest amount of information and condenses it into the most simple expression possible. That was the genius of E=mc2. The amount of information that it contained was almost unimaginable, as well as its beauty. Certainly for someone like Einstein this was clearly a big part of his motivation. Such discoveries were mathematical and spiritual discoveries at the same time.
So when you condense the immensity of true nature down into a really simple application, you want something that contains as much wisdom and vision and love as possible in its most simplified, practical form. Often I’ll say simply, “Abide as awareness.” Just that. Keep it simple.